winter health

Ultimate Guide to Winter Health

Get your body and mind ready for the colder weather with our ultimate guide to autumn and winter health

The warmer weather has gone for now and autumn has arrived, bringing with it goldening leaves and cooler temperatures. Before long, the icy hands of winter will be upon us. Following another tumultuous pandemic year, we want to make sure that you are prepared for the upcoming cold and flu season, and are able to step into the hug of winter with a healthy and happy mindset and a boosted immune system for fighting off any infections. So, read on for our advice and tips on thriving throughout the next few months with our guide to autumn and winter health.

Optimise your diet

As the saying goes, 'let food by thy medicine, and let medicine by thy food'! And certainly, food plays such a large role in determining our health and fitness, but it can also affect our mood and the state of our immune system. The right foods can boost our ability to fight off infections, so it's important to know what to consume to give your body the best chance.

Ultimately, try to eat more whole foods and less processed, fat-, sugar- and salt-high treats. Instead, nourish yourself with a variety of whole plant foods in their most natural form - like super-foods laden with vitamins and minerals that will boost your immunity. The below are examples of super-foods that can help to give your immune system a kick in the right direction:

Winter squashes
Squashes are abundant at this time of year and perfect for your winter health, which is great because they pack a punch of immunity bolstering vitamins and minerals! The nutrients found in every type of squash varies (butternut, acorn, buttercup etc), but all of them contain tonnes of fibre, magnesium, beta carotene, potassium, B6 and vitamin C.

These vitamins and minerals work wonders in the body - for example, the body converts beta carotene (an antioxidant) into vitamin A, which boosts the immune system and eye health, whilst vitamin B6 helps the body to absorb B12 (vital for fighting fatigue!) and turn food into energy.

Likewise, vitamin C aids the absorption of iron and helps to boost immunity, contributing to immune defense by supporting the functioning of cell barriers against pathogens. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). You can enjoy winter squashes roasted in tray bakes, casseroles and pasta dishes, or blended into creamy soups for your winter health boost.

Ginger
The rhizome/root of this flowering plant has been used for centuries to fight off and treat infections, like cold and flu. The natural oils of ginger give the root its strong flavour; one of the oils, gingerol, is particularly special. It is the main bioactive compound and responsible for most of ginger's medicinal qualities.

Ginger can actually inhibit the growth of many types of oral bacteria and is effective against common respiratory problems (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). If you have a cough, for example, ginger aids in expanding your lungs and loosening up phlegm - it breaks down and removes mucus, helping you to breathe and to reduce throat irritation (lifehack.org).

Another great winter health tip is, it can also be used to help treat conditions like cold and flu once you have them - being diaphoretic, it encourages perspiration, helping to reduce fever (bbcgoodfood.com). Likewise, it decreases bacterial infections in the stomach, soothes upset bellies and improves absorption and stimulation of essential nutrients in the body.

Ginger can be consumed in many ways - fresh, as opposed to the powdered form, is said to be more effective in helping the immune system. Try adding minced fresh ginger to Asian dishes or drinking hot water with shredded, steeped ginger a few times a day - especially when you're feeling under the weather.

Kale
This cruciferous vegetable, within the same ranks as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, is in season from autumn through to the end of winter. It has large, edible leaves which either have flat or curly edges, and a tough central stem. Typically, kale is dark green, but you can find it in a variety of colours - even purple!

According to registered nutritionist Nicola Shurbook, 'Kale contains four times the amount of vitamin C and twice the selenium content as spinach', and also nutrients like vitamin E and beta carotene (bbcgoodfood.com), which all make it brilliant for supporting a healthy immune system.

It's also high in vitamins K, A, B6, and manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium - so, just a single cup a day will get you well on your way to consuming the vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrivefor winter health. There are loads of tasty ways to get kale into your diet - try shredding and roasting it in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper for a crispy snack; add kale to your vegan roast dinners; enjoy it in stir-fries and blended into smoothies and juices.

Sam Turnball (5)

Fennel
This strongly-aniseed flavoured plant is a winter health powerhouse - it has a fantastic nutrient profile, including calcium, beta-carotene, copper, fibre, folate, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. The unique vegetable is bulb-like in appearance, with green stems and fronds.

It is also another brilliant source of winter health must-have, vitamin C. And it is this nutrient, combined with fennel's high quantity of plant flavonoids (naturally occurring plant chemicals that have health boosting benefits), which help make fennel anti-inflammatory and protective against the risk of a number of chronic diseases (bbcgoodfood.com).

Every part of fennel is edible - bulb, leaves and seeds! You can eat the bulbs raw or braised, use the seeds for seasoning and cook the stalks in broths, soups, sauces and stuffing.

Other tasty super-foods
• Leeks: contain lots of magnesium, a nutrient which helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and irritability.
• Pomegranate: high in polyphenols, which are known to improve memory and heart health and fight infection.
• Broccoli: high in immune system-boosting vitamin C - one cup contains 100 per cent of your recommended daily intake (RDI)!
• Persimmon: a single fruit has half your RDI of vitamin A, a vital nutrient for eye health and immune function.
• Citrus fruits: bursting with vitamin C and health-boosting phytochemicals.
• Probiotics: promote a healthy gut - where most of our immune system resides. Healthy gut bacteria (our microbiome) thrive on fermented foods and drinks like miso, kombucha, kimchi and yoghurt.

Stay hydrated

Did you know that drinking water helps your body to naturally eliminate toxins, as well as the build-up of bacteria that may cause illness? So, try to drink at least two litres a day to stay hydrated and alert, boost your skin and improve your bodily functions.

Get enough sleep

Sleep and the immune system have what is called a bidirectional relationship - according to the Sleep Foundation, immune response (like what follows a viral infection), can affect sleep. Likewise, consistent sleep strengthens the immune system.

While you sleep, your body can make more white blood cells that can attack viruses and bacteria that have invaded the body, permitting effective immune function (sleepfoundation.org). Meanwhile, lack of sleep can inhibit the immune system, making it more likely that you will not be able to fight off infections and get ill more often.

 

 

During sleep, our bodies are also able to recover. Because it is not so active elsewhere, your brain can tend to other issues within the body, like areas that need healing, repair or growth. The brain triggers hormones that help with this, allowing wounds to heal and a restoration of damaged or sore muscles.

So, aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep a night to give your immune system the best chance it has for fending off winter nasties. Getting told to sleep more? Now, that's the kind of winter health advice we can get on board with!

Wash your hands

Whilst hand washing doesn't boost your immune system, if there's one thing we've learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's that good hand hygiene is vital for preventing the spread of germs.

A number of infectious bacteria and viruses spread via touch and skin to skin/surface contact from contaminated hands. But washing hands properly with liquid soap and water (which scientists say is better than sanitiser) can help to remove and prevent the spread of diseases.

Reduce stresses

We all get stressed from time to time, but did you know that repeated stresses and chronic stress can reduce your immunity? Stress causes your body to produce higher amounts than normal of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Over time, your body can become used to having too much cortisol in the blood, which causes inflammation (health.clevelandclinic.org). Too much inflammation leads to an over worked immune system that can no longer regulate itself.

On top of this, stress limits the body's ability to make lymphocytes - the white blood cells that fight off bacteria and viruses. The lower your level of these, the more you're at risk of getting ill - including the flu and common cold (health.clevelandclinic.org).

Not only will stress inhibit your immune system, but it can also cause anxiety, irritability and depression. During winter, many people already feel down because of the colder weather and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), so if you're stressed your mental health is likely to suffer further.

So, the bottom line is, reduce your exposure to stressful situations in winter as much as you can; remove yourself from stressful events and try to keep calm.

Practice meditation, get a 'gratitude diary' where you jot down things you are thankful for, read a calming book, paint or do anything that helps to relax you. Your health will thank you.

VeganLife

The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.